The House Un-American Activities Committee and Other Examples of The Red Scare

Although there was tolerance of liberal and progressive causes in the 1930s, fear of Communist subversion dated back to post-World War I days and the Palmer raids: “… [P]ersecution of ‘Reds’ had plenty of precedents in this nation’s history. As early as 1798, [the Alien and Sedition] laws were enacted that defined ‘enemy aliens’ and the 1918 Sedition Act made disloyal references to the American flag, government or constitution subject to twenty years in prison.’’ (Dunaway and Beer, p. 93.) The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), also called the Dies Committee after its Chairman, Martin Dies, was established in 1938 to investigate communist and fascist infiltration in the federal government.

During the Cold War, HUAC interrogated more than 3,000 witnesses in its efforts to flush out the ‘reds’ in the American government, the Hollywood movie industry and the United States Army. The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee (SISS) was the Senate counterpart to HUAC. (Goldsmith, p. 226.) Several states had their own communist subversion investigation committees. For example, in California there was the Tenney Committee— The Senate Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities. (Reuss, p. 195, note 44, p. 217.)

Anti-communism was rampant in the United States after World War II. The post-war Congress passed legislation that was intended to control domestic communism. The Hatch Act made membership in the Communist Party a disqualification for federal employment, but it was not unlawful to be a member of the CPUSA. The Smith Act made it a federal crime to advocate overthrow of the government. J. Edgar Hoover stated: “There was a force of traitorous Communists constantly gnawing away, like termites, at the foundations of American society.” (Dunaway and Beer, p. 83.) The FBI used these statutes to prosecute U.S. communists and send them to prison. The FBI also conducted loyalty investigations of federal employees. It investigated several million federal employees, but, although Hoover told Congress that the FBI had a list of 14,000 names of dangerous communists, who would be arrested if there was ever a conflict with Russia, the FBI actually found only a few hundred who were fired as security risks. (Id.)

The John Birch Society, founded in 1958 by Robert Welch, was the leading American anti-communist group in the 1950s and 1960s. According to Welch’s biography on the Society’s website, “At an age when most people are enjoying their retirement, Robert Welch decided to forego a life of leisure and create an organization to promote what he saw as ideals of Americanism in order to battle the overwhelming wave of communism he saw taking over numerous countries. He had already seen communism’s prominent influence in America throughout his lifetime.”(

The John Birch Society still exists. “The organization’s overall goal, never altered in the 50-plus years of its existence, has always been to create sufficient understanding amongst the American people about both their country and its enemies, so that they could protect freedom and ensure continuation of the nation’s independence…. the Society has never deviated from its opposition to communism and any other form of totalitarianism, certainly including the steady drift toward total government currently arising from within our own shores.” (

The Society’s main activity in the 1960s was “comprised [of] monthly meetings to watch a film by Welch, followed by writing postcards or letters to government officials linking specific policies to the Communist menace.” (Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, Hill and Wang, (2001) p. 117.) At its peak in the mid-1960s, the John Birch Society had an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 members; almost exactly the estimated membership of the liberal, some would say radical, SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) at the height of its popularity. (Echols, Shaky Ground: The ‘60s and its Aftershocks, p. 234, note 4.)

For a detailed analysis of all aspects of how the Red Scare affected the American society of the 1950s and 1960s, Whitfield gives a good account in The Culture of the Cold War: “Vigilance against Communism was a national priority during the darkest days of the Cold War, from the late 1940s until the mid-1950s…. The national fetish with anti-Communism pervaded American society, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the popular culture of the era…. Literature, movies, art and the media – particularly the then-new form, television – consistently hammered the theme of an enemy within, working to subvert the American way of Life….The cultural assault on communism unleashed a fear and loathing that weakened and even subdued traditional commitments to an open society and the rule of Law.” (Whitfield, Foreword, pp. vii-viii.)

The Truman and Eisenhower administrations established the most sweeping inquiry into government service loyalty in American history. (Anderson, pp. 8-11.) Loyalty oaths were required from employees in all kinds of businesses and many different public servants. (Anderson, Id.; Brand, pp. 134-135.) From 1947 to 1956, the federal government fired approximately 2,700 workers. Fearing investigation and dismissal, another 12,000 employees resigned. More than 600 teachers and professors lost their jobs. (Anderson, Id.) The Committee on Socialism and Communism of the Chamber of Commerce proposed to prohibit all “Communists, fellow-travelers and dupes” from teaching in schools, writing for newspapers, participating in the entertainment industries and working in “any plant large enough to have a labor union.” (Whitfield, p. 15.) The Internal Security Act of 1950 established concentration camps in five states for those suspected of being communist sympathizers. (Whitfield, p. 49.)

In 1949, a then relatively unknown Christian revival preacher, Billy Graham, warned of the Communist threat to the American society when he said: “God is giving us a desperate choice, a choice of either revival or judgment. There is no alternative! … The world is divided in to two camps! On the one side we see Communism…[which] has declared war against God, against Christ, against the Bible, and against all religion!…Unless the Western world has an old-fashioned revival, we cannot last!” (Whitfield, p. 77.)

“I’m No Communist, written by Scotty Wiseman (1952), sung by Lulu Belle & Scotty ( is a song that reflects the prevailing mindset and would be well received at a John Birch Society meeting.

We’re living in a country that’s the finest place of earth
But some folks don’t appreciate this land that gave them birth
I hear that up in Washington they’re having an awful fuss
‘Cause Communists and spies are making monkeys out of us

The bureaus and departments have been busy night and day
They’re figuring out just how we gave our secrets all away
And Congress has appointed a committee so they said
To find out who’s American and who’s a low-down Red.

They call them up to Washington to speak for Uncle Sam
But when they ask them what they are, they shut up like a clam
I wish they’d take and put me on the witness stand today
I’d yell so loud old Stalin could hear me all the way

Refrain: I’m no Communist, and I’ll you that right now
I believe a man should own his own house and car and cow
I like this private ownership, and I want to be left alone
Let the government run its business and let me run my own

Our government is bigger than it ever was today
The more they hire to work for it, the more they have to pay
Our public servants should be proud and honest you would think
Instead of taking bribes and dressing up their wives in mink

The taxes keep on going up of that there is no doubt
But still they just can’t take it in as fast as they dish it out
Our national debt is monster size and growin’ every day
Our children’s children, still unborn are gonna have to pay

Our dollar used be the soundest money on this earth
But now two bucks won’t even buy a good old dollar’s worth
Unless we stop inflation and take care of what we’ve got
The Communists may win the fight and never fire a shot


Another song that reflects the anti-communist theme is “Fascist Threat,written and sung by Janet Greene, who was called “the anti-Joan Baez” (1966). The singer equates communism and fascism, as they are both threats to the American way of life. (

I’ve heard it said and it makes me fret
America has a fascist threat
Which organization can it be?
This is what perplexes me.
So I think I’ll take a little quiz
And find out just what fascism is
Though some may think it extreme
To find out what words really mean
It has party rather small
That seeks to rule and govern all.
A single leader whom they say
Everybody must obey
Destroy the government with lies,
Seize control and centralize,
Very shortly you will see
A fascist state monopoly.
Although we used the fascist name,
Communism is just the same
It’s plain to see these two are twins
And freedom dies if either wins
One billion conquered should reveal
The danger that is very real
The greatest fascist threat you see
Is the communist conspiracy.
So rally now to freedom’s call,
Unafraid we’ll stand up tall.
With faith and courage
We will find
Peace will reign for all mankind.
With faith and courage
We will find peace will reign for all mankind.

On the other hand, “John Birch Society,written by Michael Brown and sung by The Chad Mitchell Trio (, has a very different point of view of the John Birch Society.

Oh, we’re meetin’ at the courthouse at eight o’clock tonight
You just walk in the door and take the first turn to the right
Be careful when you get there, we hate to be bereft
But we’re taking down the names of everybody turning left

Oh, we’re the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Here to save our country from a communistic plot
Join the John Birch Society, help us fill the ranks
To get this movement started we need lots of tools and cranks

Now there’s no one that we’re certain the Kremlin doesn’t touch
We think that Westbrook Pegler doth protest a bit too much
We only hail the hero from whom we got our name
We’re not sure what he did but he’s our hero just the same

Oh, we’re the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Socialism is the -ism dismalest of all
Join the John Birch Society, there’s so much to do
Have you heard they’re serving vodka at the WCTU?

Well you’ve heard about the agents that we’ve already named
Well MPA has agents that are flauntedly unashamed
We’re after Rosie Clooney, we’ve gotten Pinkie Lee
And the day we get Red Skelton won’t that be a victory

Oh we’re the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Norman Vincent Peale may think he’s kidding us along
But the John Birch Society knows he spilled the beans
He keeps on preaching brotherhood, but we know what he means

We’ll teach you how to spot ’em in the cities or the sticks
For even Jasper Junction is just full of Bolsheviks
The CIA’s subversive and so’s the FCC
There’s no one left but thee and we, and we’re not sure of thee

Oh, we’re the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Here to save our country from a communistic plot
Join the John Birch Society holding off the Reds
We’ll use our hand and hearts and if we must we’ll use our heads

Do you want Justice Warren for your Commissar?
Do you want Mrs. Krushchev in there with the DAR?
You cannot trust your neighbor or even next of kin

If mommie is a commie then you gotta turn her in

Oh, we’re the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Fighting for the right to fight the right fight for the Right
Join the John Birch Society as we’re marching on
And we’ll all be glad to see you when we’re meeting in the John
The John, the John Birch So- ci- i- teee.

Bob Dylan’s “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues” is a tongue-in-cheek critical statement of the John Birch Society (1962). ( (An alternative version can be found at

Dylan proposed to sing this song on the “Ed Sullivan Show” on the CBS network in May 1963. When CBS officials asked Dylan not to sing it, he refused to appear on the program. (Pichaske, Song of the North Country: A Midwest Framework to the Songs of Bob Dylan, p. 46.) Columbia Records also removed the song from Dylan’s second album. (Id.)

Well, I was feelin’ sad and feelin’ blue
I didn’t know what in the world I was gonna do
Them Communists they was comin’ around
They was in the air
They was on the ground
They wouldn’t gimme no peace . . .

So I run down most hurriedly
And joined up with the John Birch Society
I got me a secret membership card
And started off a-walkin’ down the road
Yee-hoo, I’m a real John Bircher now!
Look out you Commies!

Now we all agree with Hitler’s views
Although he killed six million Jews
It don’t matter too much that he was a Fascist
At least you can’t say he was a Communist!
That’s to say like if you got a cold you take a shot of malaria

Well, I was lookin’ everywhere for them gol-darned Reds
I got up in the mornin’ ’n’ looked under my bed
Looked in the sink, behind the door
Looked in the glove compartment of my car
Couldn’t find ’em . . .

I was lookin’ high an’ low for them Reds everywhere
I was lookin’ in the sink an’ underneath the chair
I looked way up my chimney hole
I even looked deep down inside my toilet bowl
They got away . . .

Well, I was sittin’ home alone an’ started to sweat
Figured they was in my T.V. set
Peeked behind the picture frame
Got a shock from my feet, hittin’ right up in the brain
Them Reds caused it!
I know they did . . . them hard-core ones

Well, I quit my job so I could work all alone
Then I changed my name to Sherlock Holmes
Followed some clues from my detective bag
And discovered they was red stripes on the American flag!
That ol’ Betsy Ross . . .

Well, I investigated all the books in the library
Ninety percent of ’em gotta be burned away
I investigated all the people that I knowed
Ninety-eight percent of them gotta go
The other two percent are fellow Birchers . . . just like me

Now Eisenhower, he’s a Russian spy
Lincoln, Jefferson and that Roosevelt guy
To my knowledge there’s just one man
That’s really a true American: George Lincoln Rockwell
I know for a fact he hates Commies cus he picketed the movie Exodus

Well, I fin’ly started thinkin’ straight
When I run outa things to investigate
Couldn’t imagine doin’ anything else
So now I’m sittin’ home investigatin’ myself!
Hope I don’t find out anything . . . hmm, great God!

Three ex-FBI agents, who purportedly had access to the Bureau’s confidential investigative files, published a newsletter called Counterattack that leaked information about suspected communists and security leaks in the government. It was “half gossip, half conspiracy.” (Dunaway, pp. 147-151.) At $24 per subscriber, Counterattack netted hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. (Id.) The editors of Counterattack also offered an investigation service to entertainment companies that were concerned about subversive infiltration in their organizations. (Id.) For $5,000 annually, and an additional $1,000 per individual investigated, Counterattack would study the loyalty of entertainment workers and then publish lists of so-called suspected “pink” individuals. (Id.) Of course, entertainment businesses and advertisers distanced themselves from such people, who became blacklisted.

The publishers of Counterattack also published the book Red Channels: Communist Influence on Radio and Television, which listed the names of more than 151 people suspected of being “fellow travelers” or “subversives” (Id.; Jennings and Brewster, p. 315), who were then investigated by Hoover and his “red squad.” “Show business personalities became an early and continuing target for the Red hunters, furnishing publicity and glamour to the crusade.” (Cohen, p. 74.) According to Red Channels, anyone in broadcasting who promoted civil rights or opposed the fascism of Franco’s Spain could be considered traitorous. This 213-page booklet became one of the most consulted reference works of the cultural cold war. (Whitfield, p. 167.) Those who suffered the most were musicians who were or had been members of the Communist party, those who were sympathetic and suspected fellow travelers. (Id. at 5; Denisoff, Great Day, pp. 140-14

Richard Fariña wrote a song about the HUAC called “House Un-American Blues Activity Dream, performed by Richard and Mimi Fariña.

I was standing on the sidewalk, had a noise in my head.
There were loudspeakers babbling, but nothing was said.
There were twenty-seven companies of female Marines.
There were presidential candidates in new Levis jeans.
It was the red, white and blue planning how to endure.
The fife, drum and bugle marching down on the poor.
God bless America, without any doubt.
And I figured it was time to get out.

Well I have to b’lieve that in between scenes, good people.
Went and got ‘em done in the sun, good people.
Tourist information said to get on the stick.
You ain’t moving ’til you’re grooving with a Cubana chick.
So I hopped on a plane, I took a pill for my brain,
and I discovered I was feeling all right.
When I strolled down the Prado, people looked at me weird.
Who’s that hippy, hoppy character without any beard?
Drinking juice from papayas, singing songs to the trees.
Dancing mambo on the beaches, spreading social disease.

Now the Castro convertible was changing the style,
a whole lot of action on a blockaded isle.
When along come a summons in the middle of night,
saying, “Buddy, we’re about to indict.”
When I went up on the stand with my hand, good people.
You’ve got to tell the truth in the booth, good people.
I started out with information kind of remote.
When a patriotic mother dragged me down by the throat.
“If they ask you a question, they expect a reply!”
Doesn’t matter if you’re fixin’ to die.

Well I was lying there unconscious feeling kind of exempt.
When the judge said that silence was a sign of contempt.
He took out his gavel, banged me hard on the head.
He fined me ten years in prison, and a whole lot of bread.
It was the red, white and blue making war on the poor.
Blind mother justice, on a pile of manure.
Say your prayers and the Pledge of Allegiance every night.
And tomorrow, you’ll be feeling all right.

“Talking Un-American Blues, written by Irwin Silber and Betty Sanders (1952), sung here by Pete Seeger and Betty Sanders, addresses the same theme. (

Early one morning got an invitation
To help Congress out in an investigation;
Man came around a-knocking at my door,
Give me a paper that said what for.
Subpoena, looking for Un-Americans;
Look in the mirror.

Now if you want an invite, here’ s what to do,
You got to talk with peace, sing it too;
Visit your neighbors, hear what they say,
Before you know it, you’re on your way.
Fare paid! Ride in style. First class!

Well, you brush your hair and you dress real pretty,
You got a date with the Un-American Committee;
Take the stand, they swear you in,
Old Man Wood is wearing a grin.
He thinks he’s got you, got a short memory.
Can’t recall what happened when they stuck a
Union label on his cantankerous investigation.

“Are you now, or have ever been,
Were you ever sympathetic or interested in…
When did you start, how long did it last,
Tell us all about your interesting past.
Answer yes or no.”

“Did you go to a meeting, did you sign a petition,
Did you ever hold an executive position?
Did you make a speech, carry a card,
Did you ever hold a conference in your back yard?”
Fifth Amendment!

Now they were asking questions, but we wouldn’t buy it,
Like those union brothers did it, it was time for us to try it;
Added up the facts and the figures historical,
Asked them a question which sounds a bit rhetorical.
Mister Wood: Are you now or have you ever been a bastard?
You don’t have to answer that question if you think
It might tend to incriminate you.

Now Mister Wood, get out of your rut,
Do you swear to tell the truth and nothin’ but?
Well, Wood said he would, but we knew he wouldn’t
And even if he would, well he damn well couldn’t,
But that’s Congress for you,
Week in, week out, weak all over.

Now Wood couldn’t rest on his laurels,
He tried his best to corrupt our morals;
He talked about Philbrick, Budenz too,
“They’re getting theirs, how about you?”

Now I like chicken, I like duck
And I don’t object to making a buck.
But I ain’t got wings and sure can’t fly,
But there’s one bird that I won’t buy:
That’s Stoolpigeon! I’m strictly in the market for doves of peace!

It is known that birds of a feather
Have a habit of flockin’ together.
So listen, McCarran, Wood and the rest,
You can’t use us to feather your nest.
That’s strictly for birds!

So here’s the moral without a doubt,
If you want to be free, you’ve got to sing out.
Sing it loud, sing it strong,
People are singing a freedom song!
That’s my music! Solid with a freedom beat!
So keep singing, and keep fighting!

“The Old H-U-A-C, sung and written by The Raunch Hands, a folk-singing group that was active while in college in the late 1950’s through the early 1960’s, is clearly critical of the HUAC. The Raunch Hands were Cam Fordyce, Bill Wood, Alan Goldman, Fritz Donovan, Larry Reeder and Rafe Henderson. (

I am a college student
And I’ve come to sing a song
I’ve always been a liberal
I never thought it wrong
But I have come to tell you
Take warning now from me
Or you may have to tangle with
The old H-U-A-C.

Now, I am only eighteen years
Of age as of this date
It’s hard to see how I could be
A danger to the state
But that’s what the Committee said
And so it has to be
For their sources are of
Unimpeachable integrity.

H-U-A-C, H-U-A-C
What a lucky thing it is for you and me
That our freedoms are well guarded
By politically retarded
Men of unimpeachable integrity.

I went and joined a picket line
Because I’d like to see
No more discrimination
If our land is really free
I’d like to see them put an end
To weapons testing too
But they say this is a dangerous
Subversive point of view.

I tried to be progressive
But I never was a red
I thought the first amendment
Meant exactly what it said
But now that that’s gone out of style
There’s just one thing to do
Be silent or conservative
The choice is up to you.

H-U-A-C, H-U-A-C
They’re just lookin’ out
For guys like you and me
So become reactionary
And of progress be most wary
Keep our country true and brave
And strong and free.

So listen to my warning
And reject each liberal view
And praise the men who govern us
No matter what they do
But even this is not enough
For those who would go far
You’d better make your mother
Join the local D. A. R.

Now please don’t tell them who
It was that wrote this song
If anyone should ask you
Tell them I have moved along
I’m sorry that I have to leave
The evening has been great
But I have been subpoenaed
And I really can’t be late.

“The H. U. A. C., words and music by Malvina Reynolds (1962), was written in response to HUAC’s harassment of an organizer of an activist group called Women Strike for Peace. (looking for audio)

The H.U.A.C., the H.U.A.C.,
They need a new menace for ‘sixty three,
The reds are indicted,
So now they’re affrighted,
When the pork barrel’s opened
They’re going to be slighted.

The H.U.A.C., the H.U.A.C.,
The red scare is not what it used to be.
They need some excuse
To prove they’re some use,
Or they won’t get the loot
From the senate and house.

The H.U.A.C., the H.U.A.C.,
The public is tired of their stale hoop-dee-dee.
They need some new spies,
To tell some new lies,
To get in the headlines
And build up their size.

The H.U.A.C., the H.U.A.C.,
It’s time they were bounced with a one, two, & three.
They’re due for the door,
When they can do no more
Than pester the women
Who work against war.